By Gerry Blackwell
October 14, 2005
The Wi-Fi digital camera is out. Nikon recently started shipping the CoolPix P1 and P2 models (which only narrowly beat Kodak). Both Nikons have built-in Wi-Fi for sending images from the camera to a PC, as well as a printer connected to a PC or directly to some printer models equipped with an optional USB/Wi-Fi adapter provided by Nikon. The P1 ($550) is an 8-megapixel camera, the P2 ($400) is a 5-megapixel model.
We primarily view the P2 as a Wi-Fi device, but it’s also a nice little camera. As for the Wi-Fi features, they work pretty well, although we did run into some temporary setup issues. Overall, however, the P2 is a success.
Test images are generally sharp and properly exposed. The camera is attractively small – 3.6 x 2.4 x 1.5 inches and only 6 ounces. However, it does include a 3.5X zoom lens (equivalent to 36-126mm on a 35mm camera). The lens retracts into the camera when the power is off, close the built-in lens cover.
The P2 also has a huge 2.5-inch LCD screen that covers most of the rear surface. To make room for it, Nikon chose to do without the optical viewfinder. Other consumer camera manufacturers do the same. It seems like most people would rather use the LCD for composing photos, but it would be nice to have both options so users can save battery life by not using the LCD.
Like most consumer cameras, the P2 offers a fully automatic, anti-stupid mode. It also offers a wide selection of 16 scene modes – programmed settings for special shooting situations like portrait, beach/snow, close-up, etc. Andlike many digital cameras in this category, the P2 also gives you partial manual control, setting aperture or shutter speed manually, and allowing the camera to choose a different mode.
The controls are intuitive and easy to use, especially if you’re familiar with Nikon cameras, some of which take the same basic approach. Despite its featherweight, the P2 feels generally well-built and solid. The one exception is the mode dial on the top surface, which is a bit subtle.
The Wi-Fi transmitter is built into the camera on the left side and has a blue LED that lights up when the radio is in use. The P2 comes with Nikon’s Wireless Camera Setup Utility software (as well as PictureProject, an entry-level PC/Mac photo editor and photo organizer). Setting up the camera and host computer for wireless was relatively easy with the right computer, although I ran into problems almost immediately.
I have an 802.11g network based on Buffalo Technology AirStation. My main computer, a desktop, is in the same room as the router. They are connected by an Ethernet cable. Other computers around the house are connected wirelessly. This is a fairly common home office Wi-Fi network architecture.
I started by trying to set up my main desktop system as a server for the camera. It doesn’t work.
After installing the wireless setup software on a PC, connecting the camera to the PC with a USB cable, and turning on the camera, the Setup Wizard will launch on the PC screen. A message says, ‘To use your camera’s wireless features with this computer, the computer requires a wireless network interface.’ Does this mean that the PC must have a wireless network card installed, or does it just have to be connected to a wireless network? It is not clear.
I proceeded. On the next step in the Wizard, where the wireless utility software looks for the attached camera, it will not recognize the P2 even if it is plugged into the USB port and enabled. After many unsuccessful attempts, the only conclusion is that this happens because the main system lacks a wireless network card.
I have the Nikon wireless utility installed on one of my wireless laptops. This time, the setup process worked perfectly. When I called Nikon technical support, the dealer I spoke with confirmed that the host computer must have a wireless network card. But that’s not true either.
The next day, with identical computer configurations, I again tried setting up my main desktop system using the Nikon wireless software. This time, it worked. It might be related to the changes made in the camera after I successfully configured the wireless laptop a day before. Nikon software this time presented me with a dialog box where I could enter network settings to create a new profile for my desktop PC and the printer attached to it.
The camera won’t connect successfully when I put it in Wi-Fi mode and configure its desktop PC or printer. Camera software keeps returning ‘Failed to connect’ message. A Nikon product manager pointed out a comment I overlooked in the manual regarding firewall port settings. I have added the ports to the Windows Firewall settings and the camera is connected.
In an uncomplicated configuration, like when I set up the camera with my laptop, the process works just fine. The software recognized the P2 and automatically created a wireless profile for the computer, filling in the correct network information – presumably getting it from the Windows Wireless Connection Settings. Configuring a printer is as simple as selecting a printer from the list of printers attached to that computer.
Once the setup was complete, I took some test shots, then switched the mode dial on the P2 to Wi-Fi. The camera software displays a list of the computer and printer profiles you have set up – you can have up to nine profiles. I selected the printer I was going to set up and clicked OK. Outside of my deck, about 30 feet from the wireless hub – and slanted across the exterior and interior walls – the connection failed. When I stepped inside closer to the center, it connected.
Nikon says it’s achieved a solid line of sight connection at up to 60 feet and a line of sight connection at 300 feet away. My house is full of 2.4GHz devices that can create interference. Other Wi-Fi devices show similar, though not as pronounced, connection strength drops in the same locations where I had trouble connecting the camera.
Once connected wirelessly to the printer, the camera software displays the PictBridge menu. PictBridge is a digital standard for bypassing the computer and printing directly from the camera, whether wirelessly or via a USB cable. Using the four-way rotary switch on the back of the P2, you select the paper size, the image to print (or all images) and press OK to start printing.
The software does not allow you to arrange multiple images on a page or image sizes – if you choose default or Letter and you have letterhead in the printer, it will automatically fill the page with images. This is what happened the first time I printed. If you want to print with a size of 4 × 6 on letter paper, you must choose a 4 × 6 paper size.
Transferring photos wirelessly to a computer is even simpler than printing. Set the mode dial to Wi-Fi and select the computer profile of the computer to which you are sending the images. Once connected, the camera software displays a six-item menu. If you choose Easy Transfer, it will send all images it hasn’t sent before, setting up a new numbered subfolder in the PictureProject subfolder in your computer’s My Pictures folder. You can also just transfer photos from a certain date, photos you’ve bookmarked before, or photos you select now.
If you select Capture & Transfer from this menu, the P2 connects to the computer and switches back to shooting mode. Now, when you take a photo, the camera automatically transfers the image wirelessly to the computer instantly. If you select PC Mode, you can use a program such as PictureProject on your PC to manage image transfers. The P2 appears as a connected storage device in Windows Explorer, so you can also copy images from the camera to a folder on your PC using Explorer.
Bottom line: For the first part of the Wi-Fi camera, this is pretty good. A better radio and antenna would be great, although that might require compromises in size and weight. Better documentation on how to set up a host computer connected by Ethernet to the wireless hub would also be welcome.